After a sidelined season, the returning senior called the moment “a highlight” of his life.
Laurence Bowers waited a long time for Oct. 12. Barely more than a year prior, one of the ligaments in his knee shredded, putting his basketball career on the ropes.
“That was probably one of the most low points of my life,” he said, referring to his collapse to the floor in practice around this time last year. “Well actually, getting the news about it being a tear.”
The 6-foot-8-inch Bowers said he has no trouble remembering the day he got the news. Trainers called him to Mizzou Arena after classes to discuss the results of the MRI, which revealed an athlete’s worst fear: a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
After limping out of the training room, then-senior forward Kim English was the first person he saw.
“It was the worst thing to deal with,” he said. “Kim English was the first person I saw and the first person I put my head on, and I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. That’s a wrap.”
The injury on Oct. 3, 2011, forced him to miss the entirety of the 2011-12 basketball season, the winningest in program history. Expected to be an integral part of the Missouri front court, Bowers was forced to watch as the Tigers posted a 30-5 record, captured the Big 12 Conference Tournament title and ascended as high as No. 2 in the national rankings.
It had been 18 months since he had played before a crowd.
On Friday, that wait finally ended.
Bowers returned to the court in front of more than 6,000 fans at Mizzou Madness, a festive kickoff to both the men’s and women’s basketball seasons.
“The one thing that really touched me was seeing this guy to my left get back out there after 18 months,” coach Frank Haith said in a press conference after the event, gesturing to Bowers. “That really meant a lot. It was just really heartfelt to see him have a chance after what he’s gone through, have an opportunity to get back out there and play.”
Still not quite at 100 percent on the surgically repaired knee, Bowers moved well in an intrasquad scrimmage, finishing with a game-high five rebounds, two points and a block in 10 minutes of action.
“I didn’t really care how I did,” he said. “Just putting the jersey on, running out there, hearing my name, it was crazy. … That was one of the highlights of my life.”
Bowers ran with junior guard Phil Pressey and senior guard Keion Bell on the black team against senior guard Michael Dixon’s gold team in the intrasquad scrimmage. A minute and a half into the scrimmage, Pressey led the break and found Bowers with an underhand no-look flip, which his returning teammate took and finished at the rim. The gold team ended up beating the black team 28-24.
“He (Bowers) is going to make me look better,” Pressey said. “So I’m glad to have him in there.”
Instead of patrolling the paint in 2011, Bowers manned the end of the bench, soaking up wisdom “like a sponge” from Haith during his first year as head coach. Now expected to star for the Tigers, he says his basketball IQ in Haith’s offense is at a high level.
“On the bench, you see things from a different perspective than you’d never see on the court,” Bowers said. “I tried to maintain the things that I picked up last year, and hopefully I can translate that on to the court and hopefully be a smarter player.”
On a team with a highly-touted guard duo in Pressey and Dixon, Bowers still might be the Tigers’ most popular player. On Friday, he was. He was greeted by thunderous applause that seemed like it came from more than just the lower bowl of Mizzou Arena.
Maybe that’s because, through the high-fives and chest bumps and fog machine, he was screaming, too.